Women Must Weep
The National Right-to-Work Committee had little to show for
time and money spent in 1955 and 1956 but it continued to tap
its corporate financial angels for more money in 1957. Having
amassed a bureaucracy of professional propagandists, the committee
had to justify its existence. As long as the committee could find
legislators to serve as errand boys in the state houses they could
milk corporate America for funds.
In February 1957 The Machinist reported the
introduction of open shop bills in eight state legislatures with
further submissions expected in at least twenty others. Failure to
penetrate beyond Dixie and the Farm Belt had the National
Right-to-Work Committee desperate for a breakthrough in an
Indiana seemed to be the most tempting target. Though dotted
with unionized factories spreading from huge steel complexes in Gary
and Hammond in the North to such electrical and automotive
manufacturing centers as South Bend, Ft. Wayne, Terre Haute and
Evansville to the East and South, Hoosier politics were frankly
conservative. The daily newspapers distributed widely out of
Indianapolis were notoriously reactionary. The Ku Klux Klan
controlled the state house in the 1920's and conservatives dominated
Indiana's Congressional delegation in the 1950's.
Despite this favorable climate the NRTW's compulsory open shop
bill was going nowhere in the 1957 session of the Indiana
legislature until unknown night-riders unleashed a hail of bullets
at a lonely trailer on the outskirts of the little town of Princeton
in Southern Indiana in February 1957.
At the time the town was bitterly divided by a four-month old
strike which pitted IAM Lodge 1459 against a company called Potter
and Brumfield. The center of an old coal-mining region, Princeton
had a tradition of bloodshed and violence in labor-management
confrontations. In this case most of the strikers were women and the
absentee owner, AMF, decided to continue operations with scabs. Even
so violence remained relatively slight and sporadic throughout the
winter, being pretty much limited to such isolated acts of vandalism
as some broken windows and a few slashed tires.
On the night of February 12, literally hours before the
right-to-work bill was scheduled for debate in Indianapolis, all
hell broke loose. Someone fired shots into a trailer where a young
couple and their four-month baby were sleeping. The baby was hit.
When reporters learned the father had gone through the unions picket
lines, wire services hummed with lurid accounts of the shooting of
an infant by labor goons. By the time the news came over television
that evening the nation vibrated with shock.
In Indianapolis right-to-work lobbyists celebrated. This
senseless shooting, thirty-six hours before their bill came up,
transformed a dead horse into a sure thing. Though no one knew who
fired into the trailer, the media were quick to blame the union.
Newspapers ignored Al Hayes' instant denunciation of such violence
and the large rewards offered by the Grand Lodge, Local Lodge 1459
and the State Federation of Labor. In Cleveland Plain Dealer readers
were treated to a swarmy statement that "whatever the IAM may
say, it is significant that before the strike began babies could
sleep in their pink blankets with a pretty fair chance of waking up
With the merits of the issue lost in a wave of anti-union
hysteria the right-to-work bill sailed through the Indiana
legislature, clearing the Assembly 54 to 42 and squeaking through
the Senate 27 to 23.
Anatomy Of A Lie
After converting the Princeton shooting into a compulsory open
shop law in Indiana, the National Right-to-Work Committee set out to
parlay the tragedy into a general indictment of trade unionism.
During the strike they discovered an unexpected ally. Almost
from the start the Reverend Edward Greenfield of the First
Presbyterian Church in Princeton appointed himself leader and
spokesman for a back-to-work movement. He interjected himself into
the strike early, calling upon union members, urging them to go back
to work, organizing and chairing meetings of a dissident group that
came to be known as "The Splinters" and personally
escorting scabs through the picket lines.
When the strike was settled, a few days after the shooting,
Reverend Greenfield left Princeton for a well-paying position as a
propagandist with a right-to-work organization in California. He
penned a fictionalized version of this experiences in Princeton
called ". . . And Women Must Weep." By this time the baby
was fully recovered, happy and healthy, having been only slightly
grazed, but Greenfield's diatribe "waved the bloody
diaper" in all directions. Widely circulated by the National
Right-to-Work Committee, first as a pamphlet and then as a motion
picture, " . . . And Women Must Weep" achieved the potency
of dynamite in the anti-union arsenal. It was available to any
employer fighting to keep unions out or undermine existing
bargaining units. A slickly expensive Hollywood production, complete
with technicolor and professional actors," . . . And Women Must
Weep" was presented to captive audiences as a true story. And
it was effective.
Soon Al Hayes was hearing form IAM representatives in the
field. They were being crucified by Greenfield's fable. Where IAM
organizers went ". . . Women Must Weep" invariably
followed. Realizing it must be answered, Hayes sent Gordon Cole to
Princeton with instructions to talk to the people, find the truth
and record it factually on film. Cole applied a reporters' scalpel
to Greenfield's fabrications. Without actors or props or phony
settings he let the people of Princeton speak for themselves. The
resulting film, "The Anatomy of a Lie", exposed and
dissected Greenfield's lies.
In ". . . Weep," the union president, played by a
professional actor, was portrayed as a big, burly, blustering bully
who bellowed throughout a staged "union meeting." The Cole
film showed the real union president, a half-blind, soft spoken,
little fifty-nine-year-old lady.
In "Weep," the "union boss" called a
strike because he was fired for taking too much time off. In the
"Anatomy Of A Lie" union members testified that when new
absentee corporate owners bought Potter and Brumfield they
"started to change everything," introducing time study,
violating the contract and forcing the lodge to arbitrate almost
In "Weep," the strike was shouted through on a voice
vote at what seemed to be a meeting of ten or twelve people in a
small room. Cole proved, through personal, on-the-spot interviews,
that some 400 of Potter and Brumfield's 500 workers attended a mass
meeting in the National Guard Armory and only nine votes were cast
against the strike in secret balloting.
In "Weep," the strike was presented as a wildcat
walkout that came as "a complete surprise to everyone,"
Workers coming to the plant were supposedly mystified to find picket
lines. Actors milled about mouthing such lines as "Nobody said
we were going on strike." In "Anatomy" members told
Cole all members had notice of the strike vote both through the
lodge and announcements on the radio.
In "Weep," officers and pickets were all portrayed
as strong-arm toughs. In filmed interviews with the people of
Princeton Cole learned that 80% of the workers and seven of ten
local lodge officers were women.
In "Weep," the union engaged in mass picketing and
perpetrated acts of violence. On-the-spot witnesses told Cole that
number of pickets was strictly limited by law and the sheriff
testified on camera that "the union gave us no trouble."
Cole capped his presentation by interviewing the father of the
wounded baby. In "Weep" the narrator claimed, "A
bullet passed through the brain of the baby." In
"Anatomy" the father informed Cole that his daughter, now
five years old, was in perfect health. Though employed in a town
some miles away the father voluntarily returned to Princeton to set
the record straight. His statement on camera made it clear there was
never any evidence of involvement by the union or its members.
As a factual refutation of Greenfield's fiction "Anatomy
of a Lie" was devastating. But, in the words of the old saying,
"A lie can race around the world while truth is pulling on its
boots." Greenfield's lies inflicted immeasurable harm on the
labor movement. While Cole's film served as an antidote, it could
only be effective if it was shown along with ". . . And Women
Must Weep." Naturally, it was usually kept from workers who
were brought in to view right-to-work propaganda on company
The enactment of the compulsory open shop law shook the
Indiana labor movement, stimulating grass roots political action to
a level of intensity that paid off within a few years. GLR Bob Brown
was in Indianapolis, lobbying for the state Machinists' Council,
when the tragedy in Princeton triggered the right-to-work stampede.
He later said that when he returned to his home in Princeton that
night he immediately began to screen possible candidates for the
The McClellan Committee and Landrum-Griffin
While trying to check open shop laws in the state capitols,
the labor movement was set up for punitive federal legislation in
January 1957 when the Senate funded a select committee to probe
"criminal or other improper activities in the field of
Labor-Management relations." The AFL-CIO did not object to an
impartial investigation of union and employer corruption. Prior to
the merger the AFL and CIO both supported legislation regulating
health and welfare funds. But the make-up of the select committee
roused apprehension. Al Hayes was one of the many union leaders who
suspected that such notoriously anti-union Senators as Goldwater of
Arizona and Mundt of South Dakota would be more interested in
weakening unions than cleaning out corruption. Chairman John
McClellan of Arkansas was a rock-ribbed segregationist who normally
lined up with the Dixiecrats. While expressing solicitude for the
democratic rights of workers in unions his political career
was dedicated to blocking democratic rights for black citizens in
Arkansas. Upon taking the helm of the Senate select committee he
quickly showed his true colors by offering a right-to-work amendment
to an early civil rights bill.
When the McClellan Committee opened its probe AFL-CIO Ethical
Practices Committee Chairman Al Hayes was already conducting the
labor movements' first internal investigations. He was exploring
uncharted territory. Before the merger the AFL had neither the power
(nor under Gompers or Green the inclination) to dig into the seamy
side of affiliates.* Individual unions were considered autonomous,
answerable to no one except their members. In drafting the new
AFL-CIO Constitution Meany and Reuther agreed on language
establishing the Executive Council's duty to keep the Federation
"free of any taint of corruption or Communism."